4 ways returning Peace Corps volunteers want to see U.S. international media coverage improve

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By Jasmine Barta

The Peace Corps sends Americans to countries around the world to promote peace, friendship and global awareness. While these volunteers are abroad, they are fully immersed in a different country and its culture.

“We see things from two different points at least because we lived in two different countries – really lived in the countries,” said Mike Stake, who lived in India from 1966 to 1968.

We asked a variety of returning Peace Corps volunteers how they suggest journalists improve international news coverage. Here are five takeaways.

Stick with it to the end

Stake, 69, believes American media can improve by following through, using the Ebola epidemic as an example.

“They disappear,” he said. “Ebola is disappearing [from news coverage]. I don’t know if they’ve stopped the problem there or not, I just know we don’t read about it anymore.”

Don’t overlook developing countries

Adam Garnica lived in Mongolia during his time in the Peace Corps from 2012 to 2014. Garnica, 28, served as an English teacher trainer in an industrial, copper-mining city.

Garnica has also worked in Thailand and South Korea as an English teacher and believes the impact of developing countries needs more attention.

He used pollution as an example, explaining how industrialization in the form of building factories in one nation can affect the world at large.

“It’s kind of like a domino effect,” he said. “One country does one thing and it affects its neighbors,” he said. “It affects itself first and then its neighbors, and that slowly ripples out.”

Stress the connectivity

Garnica admits pollution might be a topic that is hard to persuade individuals to care about.

“These things are happening in a very far away place,” he said. “They can’t see it, or feel it.”

Garnica thinks the media should help society connect the dots on how what’s happening in other countries will eventually affect them.

“Mongolia has a lot of rich resources – resources that will affect trade with China, which will affect China’s development,” he said.  “And everything China’s doing sort of bleeds into all of Asia and then eventually to the United States through its Asia relations.”

Garnica also thinks more international stories should take personal approaches.

“It’s always nice to have a face you can put a story to. Because if it’s like, ‘oh, this thing happened in Mongolia,’ then Mongolia is just kind of like this faceless entity,” he said. “But once you have a name, a face, and a story… I think people might connect a little bit better with stories.”

Don’t just cover two ends of the spectrum

Halee Pagel also lived in Mongolia from 2012 to 2014 during her time in the Peace Corps. Pagel, 24, has also spent time in Turkey, Sweden and Greece during study-abroad programs.

Pagel thinks there is too much coverage of “extreme situations on both ends of the spectrum.”

She said on one end of the spectrum there are stories like Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and on the other, extreme poverty rates.

While Pagel feels those stories should be covered, she says reproductive rights and parenting as topics that need more coverage.

“In Sweden they have a very high rate of contraceptive use,” she said. “And on top of that when people do have children, they have a very good support system for the whole country.”

In the future she hopes for more international news coverage on a more diverse range of topics.

“I think it’s important that – as a society – we actually care about what happens outside of our borders,” she said.  “Because it does affect us, and knowledge is power.”

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